Open Access Open Badges Research article

CA 15-3 is predictive of response and disease recurrence following treatment in locally advanced breast cancer

Dhafir Al-azawi13*, Gabrielle Kelly2, Eddie Myers3, Enda W McDermott1, Arnold DK Hill13, Michael J Duffy4 and Niall O Higgins1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Surgery, St. Vincent's University Hospital, Dublin, Ireland

2 School of Mathematical Sciences, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland

3 Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, 123 St. Stephens Green, Dublin, Ireland

4 Department of Nuclear Medicine, St. Vincent's University Hospital, Dublin, Ireland

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Cancer 2006, 6:220  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-6-220

Published: 5 September 2006



Primary chemotherapy (PC) is used for down-staging locally advanced breast cancer (LABC). CA 15-3 measures the protein product of the MUC1 gene and is the most widely used serum marker in breast cancer.


We retrospectively investigated the role of CA 15-3 in conjunction with other clinico-pathological variables as a predictor of response and time to disease recurrence following treatment in LABC. Pre and post primary chemotherapy serum concentrations of CA 15-3 together with other variables were reviewed and related to four outcomes following primary chemotherapy (clinical response, pathological response, time to recurrence and time to progression). Persistently elevated CA 15-3 after PC was considered as consecutively high levels above the cut off point during and after PC.


73 patients were included in this study. Patients received PC (AC or AC-T regimen) for locally advanced breast cancer. 54 patients underwent surgery. The median follow up was 790 days. Patients with high concentrations of CA 15-3 before PC treatment had a poor clinical (p = 0.013) and pathological (p = 0.044) response. Together with Her-2/neu expression (p = 0.009) and tumour lympho-vascular space invasion (LVI) (p = 0.001), a persistently elevated CA 15-3 post PC (p = 0.007) was an independent predictive factor of recurrence following treatment in LABC.


Elevated CA 15-3 level is predictive of a poor response to chemotherapy. In addition, persistently elevated CA 15-3 levels post chemotherapy in conjunction with lympho-vascular invasion and HER2 status predict a reduced disease free survival following treatment in locally advanced breast cancer.